Goals Blog

Goal setting: How to succeed in your dream race

Have you just signed up for a big race? Or are you thinking of entering soon? When we sign up for races we often use these as long term goals that we want to achieve. We say things like “I want to run my first marathon” or, “I want to run a 10k in under an hour”.

Goals like these are known in sports and exercise psychology as outcome goals. These goals are often things that are quite challenging for us but will be achievable with the right training. As long as they are realistic this is all well and good but the problem comes when they seem too far off or overwhelming and you fail to train for them.

This can happen if you either don’t make any plans to train for them, or you make a plan but the end goal seems too overwhelming so you loose heart and give up before you’ve really tried. As a result you may drop out of the race, or worse do the race undertrained and risk injury. Both of these outcomes are likely to lead to you feeling disheartened and lacking in confidence in your ability to exercise.

The good news is that there is a simple way to overcome this. As long as your goal is realistic (challenging is fine but there are obviously limits on what is realistic) you can use another type of goal, process goals to help you achieve your outcome goal race. Process goals can be thought of as the little things you need to do regularly, such as every week to achieve your outcome goal. For example you might download a training plan and decide to follow it carefully, or you might decide to go running three times a week and do strength training twice a week. You need to decide what works for you and the amount of training you will need to do but basically you should come up with a plan of what you need to do each week to reach your goal. 

Goal Steps

These process goals have a number of purposes. Firstly, they help make an outcome goal seem more achievable. Rather than having a big race in six months times you now have a clear plan of what to do each week to get there. Secondly, research has shown that these types of research help you to adhere to exercise. This means that you are more likely to continue with exercising which is obviously a positive outcome. They also make you enjoy exercising more, possibly due to the reduced pressure as each week reaching your process goals should seem manageable, increasing your confidence in your ability. And finally, process goals act as a brilliant way to stay accountable to your training.

Having ways of staying accountable to your training is important as it means you are less likely to skip training sessions because it is cold or rainy or you are tired than if you have no way of staying accountable. Obviously if you are ill or injured you should rest but otherwise you will probably feel better for exercising even if you don’t want to to start with. Process goals help with this as they give you a clear plan of what you need to do each week. You can also tell someone, such as a partner or friend what you are planning to do each week and get them to nag you (nicely of course!) to make sure that you get it all done.

If you want any more help staying accountable, I have a running goal setting accountability programme. On this programme you will receive 1:1 support to set yourself goals and will then get personalised emails twice a week to keep you accountable to these goals, along with a monthly phone call. You will also get a personalised calendar to keep track of your training on and additional training tips and advice. This will all help you to achieve your running goals and become the best, most consistent runner you’ve ever been. To find out more and to sign up, click here: https://ellenallsop.com/running-goal-setting-accountability-programme/

Good luck with your races, give setting process goals for races a go and let me know how you get on 😊 @EllenAllsop


Ellen is a keen runner and an MSc Sports and Exercise Psychology student with a passion for getting people into, and sticking with sport and exercise. She has a website and blog and is also training to become a running coach. 

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